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The Committee of Seventy and its former board chairman Allan Schimmel are dropping their lawsuit against potential mayoral candidates in which they attempted to force candidates to comply with the city’s campaign finance ordinance. The ordinance places fundraising limits on candidates to $2,500 per individual and $10,000 per business or political action committee. Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Zachary Stalberg said the group was dropping the suit, Schimmel v. Dougherty, because it had accomplished everything it wanted to in 2006. All of the potential mayoral candidates, with the exception of union leader John Dougherty, either announced candidacy or agreed to comply with the limits prior to announcing a run for the mayor’s seat, Stalberg said. Those defendants were former city councilman Michael A. Nutter who was dropped from the suit early on, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., former city controller Jonathan Saidel, U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., state Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Phila., and businessman Tom Knox. Stalberg said the Board of Ethics, which was sworn in yesterday, has committed to deal with campaign finance issues. “We feel like we won as far as each of these seven candidates are concerned,” Stalberg said. “It’s time to get out of the Board of Ethics’ way.” Dougherty, along with some of the other defendants, have argued that the city does not have the right to create such an ordinance because a state election code pre-empts that power. Stalberg said Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Gary S. Glazer ruled against that counterclaim in late September. Stalberg said further reason to withdraw the lawsuit came as the state House approved legislation crafted by Evans that would give the city the right to create the campaign finance ordinance. It is currently awaiting approval in the Senate, he said. Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Allan L. Tereshko upheld Dougherty’s pre-emption claim in late September in a nearly identical lawsuit filed by Nutter. Nutter has also since withdrawn his suit, Nutter v. Dougherty, but that might not be the end of the matter. Dougherty’s attorney, George Bochetto of Bochetto & Lentz, said he and his client are definitely looking to appeal on the issue, and are in the process of deciding which case they will appeal. “I’m confused as to why they instituted the litigation in the first place . . . because no issues have been decided,” Dougherty said. “I question the wisdom of the Committee of Seventy in filing the [suit] in the first place if they weren’t going to see it through.” Dougherty said even an announced candidate could still go out and raise money in excess of the city mandated limits and argue that the ordinance is unconstitutional because of the state code. Stalberg said further changes could be made to the ordinance. “There’s still, obviously, a need for probably more legislation on this if and when the state Senate votes on this issue,” he said. “There are improvements that can be made in the current law.” Harkins Cunningham attorneys Marianne Consentino and John Harkins handled the Schimmel case on a pro bono basis.

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